U.S. Chess School Comes to Arizona
By Elizabeth Vicary   
January 21, 2009
Top Row: GM Yury Shulman, Conrad Holt, Kevin Zhang, Andrew Ng, Kassa Korley, Steven Zierk, Gregory Young Front Row: David Adelberg, Darwin Yang, Luke Harmon

“If you want to do something, but you can’t, but you really, really want to, then you can.” -- Yury Shulman. This idea came up almost every day at the 8th US Chess School

The Basics

The eighth US Chess School was held at the beautiful Ancala Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, Jan. 1-5, 2009. Organized by IM Greg Shahade, and sponsored by Jim Roberts in conjunction with the AF4C, the US Chess School is a triannual camp which brings together eight top American juniors with one grandmaster coach for five days of intensive instruction. GM Yury Shulman was this camp’s instructor. This camp’s participants were:

1. Darwin Yang, 11 years old, 2299 (Texas)
2. Conrad Holt, 15 years old, 2275 (Kansas)
3. Steven Zierk, 15 years old, 2258 (California)
4. Gregory Young, 13 years old, 2249 (California)
5. Kassa Korley, 15 years old, 2228 (New York)
6. Andrew Ng, 14 years old, 2185 (New Jersey)
7. Kevin Zhang, 15 years old, 2160 (Arizona)
8. David Adelberg, 11 years old, 2031 (Arizona)
9. Luke Harmon, 9 years old, 1973 (Idaho)

Amanda Mateer and Nick Thompson, local Arizona players, were guest students on Saturday. 

A look at the schedule will give you an idea of how challenging and fast-paced the camp’s instruction was:

Jan 1st:
9-9:30: Welcome and expectations speech
9:30-11:30: Queen Sacrifice
11:30 – 1: Analysis of Students Games
1-2:30: Physical activity and Lunch
2:30-3: Problem solving
3-4:30 Rook vs. Two Minor Pieces
4:30-6:00: Analysis of Students Games
6-6:30: Wind Down (Problem Solving, blitz tournament etc)
USCS students face off in a training exercise.

Jan 2nd
 9-11:30: Karpov’s prophylaxis moves
11:30-1: Analysis of Students Games
1-2:30: Physical Activity + Lunch
2:30-3: Problem Solving
3-4:30: Defense and its Methods
4:30-6: Analysis of Students Games
6-6:30: Wind Down

Topics on subsequent days included opposite-color bishop endgames, Larsen vs. Donner (“situations where the obvious is not obvious”), isolated pawns, and sacrifice as part of defense. The quantity of material that was covered is a testament both to the planning of organizer Greg Shahade and the preparation of Yury Shulman. It’s traditional at the US Chess School for the instructor to send a database of all the games and positions covered in the week to participants, so they can review what they learned later. This camp’s file contained an astonishing 149 games. I will try to cover the highlights from one of my favorite lessons, the queen sacrifice, but readers should be aware that my notes (as lengthy as they seem to me now) cover only a fraction of the games presented and abridge Yury’s explanations substantially. (I try to recreate as accurately as possible what he said in the notes, but quotations are approximate and not nearly as detailed as the originals.)

Queen Sacrifice

The first lesson was queen sacrifice, and we began with some “simple” examples.
Ftacnik-Cvitan, Bundesliga, 1997

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"This kind of sacrifice is quite easy to perform; you just sacrifice your queen and you are happy."

Lasker-Thomas, 1912, London

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“Just a cool sacrifice. There is (not much) to calculate.”

We moved on to more complex examples, where the queen sacrifice did not lead to immediate forced mate. While discussing the Tal game below, Yury explained the three main plans of playing with an extra queen. (I’m including them now, in this introduction, both because I found them extremely useful, and because we often referred back to them in subsequent examples.) The queen is especially good at three things:
1.    kingside attacks,
2.    attacking pawn weaknesses, and
3.    helping passed pawns.
Therefore, if you are playing with the queen, you should attack the king, look for weak enemy pawns, and/or try to create your own passed pawn.
“What are the reasons to sacrifice the queen?” Yury asked. “It should either be to complicate the position if you are worse or to finish the game. There is no sense to sacrifice if you have a better position.”

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3.Nf3 Nbd7 4.Nc3 e5 5.e4 Be7 6.Be2 0–0 7.0–0 c6 8.Qc2 Re8 9.Rd1 Bf8 10.Rb1 a5 11.d5 Nc5 12.Be3 Qc7 13.h3 Bd7 14.Rbc1 g6 15.Nd2 Rab8 16.Nb3 Nxb3 17.Qxb3 c5 18.Kh2 Kh8 19.Qc2 Ng8 20.Bg4 Nh6 21.Bxd7 Qxd7 22.Qd2 Ng8 23.g4 f5 24.f3 Be7 25.Rg1 Rf8 26.Rcf1 Rf7 27.gxf5 gxf5 28.Rg2 f4 29.Bf2 Rf6 30.Ne2

Position after 30.Ne2

This does not lead to forced mate. Black sacrifices here because his only advantage is king safety. His knight is not good, his rook is not good, so when he sees that he has at least a draw with the queen sacrifice, there is no reason not to do it.
 31.Kxh3 Rh6+ 32.Kg4
You have to think about psychology here-- what do you think Averbakh was thinking in this position? Averbakh was having a bad time. First of all, he knows the game is going to be published. Plus, it's very hard to defend because for White, every move  might be the only move. On the other hand, Black has very simple moves to make.
32...Nf6+ 33.Kf5 Nd7
Threatening 34...Rf8 35. Kg4 Rg8+ 36. Kf5 Rf6#
34.Rg5 Rf8+ 35.Kg4 Nf6+ 36.Kf5 Ng8+ 37.Kg4 Nf6+

Black repeats in time pressure, trying to make move forty, at which time he could adjourn, and work out a win overnight.
  38.Kf5 Nxd5+ 39.Kg4 Nf6+ 40.Kf5 Ng8+ 41.Kg4 Nf6+ 42.Kf5 Ng8+ 43.Kg4 Bxg5 44.Kxg5 Rf7 45.Bh4 Rg6+ 46.Kh5 Rfg7 47.Bg5 Rxg5+ 48.Kh4 Nf6 49.Ng3 Rxg3 50.Qxd6 R3g6 51.Qb8+ Rg8 0–1

“What do you know about the style of Polugaevsky?” Yury asked the class. Of course, his incredibly complicated, tactical variation of the Sicilian was mentioned, which elicited a laugh: “Polugaevsky was the type of player who was very, very afraid of tactical variations. Everyone thought he was a tactician, but really he was a technical player. He just analyzed positions at home so deeply that there were no tactics left to calculate at the board. Among modern players, Zvjaginsev is the same way.”

Position after 24.Rh1

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The next example was Bobotsov – Tal. “This game had a very nice psychological moment,” Yury explained. “Tal had played this queen sac variation against Bobotsov in blitz the evening before the game, and told him that he would repeat the line in their encounter the next day. Imagine how Bobotsov must have felt: your opponent tells you what line they will play and that they will sacrifice a queen!”

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0–0 6.Nge2 c5 7.Be3 Nbd7 8.Qd2 a6 9.0–0–0 Qa5 10.Kb1 b5 11.Nd5

Position after 11.Nd5

11...Nxd5 12.Qxa5 Nxe3

I'm sure Bobotsov had only one  thought in this position: "I'm a queen up!" but this is exactly the wrong thing to think. Nobody cares that you are winning. So what should you think about? Well, what is the queen good at? Three things:1. attacking the king, 2. attacking weaknesses, 3. supporting passed pawns. So you should try to attack the king, watch out for weaknesses to attack, and try to create a passed pawn. Students later played this position against each other in the blitz "wind-down" half hour scheduled at the end of each day. 
13.Rc1 Nxc4 14.Rxc4?
Opening the b-file is a bad idea for White because it helps to activate black's pieces. The rook comes to b8, the knight can come to c5 and the bishop to e6. 
14...bxc4 15.Nc1 Rb8 16.Bxc4 Nb6 17.Bb3 Bxd4 18.Qd2 Bg7 19.Ne2 c4 20.Bc2 c3 21.Qd3 cxb2 22.Nd4 Bd7 23.Rd1 Rfc8 24.Bb3 Na4 25.Bxa4 Bxa4 26.Nb3 Rc3 27.Qxa6 Bxb3 28.axb3 Rbc8 29.Qa3 Rc1+ 30.Rxc1 Rxc1+ 0–1

 “Now we will see how to deal with a queen sac in a very very Karpovian way.” This game was a great example of the need to attack when you have the extra queen.

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.e4 d6 4.d4 Bg7 5.f3 0–0 6.Be3 e5 7.d5 Nh5 8.Qd2 Qh4+ 9.Bf2 Qf4

Normally White wants to trade queens in this kind of King's Indian pawn structure, but here after 10. Qxf4 exf4, the bishop on g7 becomes the best piece on the board. Question: White's normal plan in this kind of position is to organize c4-c5. Who can explain why White normally plays on the queenside? (laughing, Yury added "and don't tell me 'because his pawns are pointing that way.")Answer: Because White is essentially up a piece (the dark bishop) on that side of the board. As a teacher, I was very impressed with how easily Yury could make comparisons between the positions we were studying and classic games. Here, for example, he asked the class if anyone remembered Capablanca - Winter, and quickly brought the game up on the screen. 

Capablanca-Winter, Hastings, 1919
 Position after gxf3

White's bishop is imprisoned on the kingside, and so Black begins attacking and opening lines on the queenside, where he will be a whole piece up.

Back to the Karpov game

10.Be3 Qh4+ 11.g3 Nxg3 12.Qf2 Nxf1 13.Qxh4 Nxe3

Position after 13...Ne3

What should White do here? First of all, what is Black threatening? 3 things: Ng2, Nc2, Nxc4. Ok, maybe Nxc4 is not such a problem because after Nb5 and Rc1, c7 will fall. White could play Qf2, but f2 is not the best square for the queen. But what is the best square? Someone suggests e7, but Yury points out that after ...Na6 and ...f6, the queen is trapped. The best square for the queen turns out to be g3, because White needs to attack (since he has the queen), and on g3 it's involved, but not blocking h4-h5. Obviously, White can't play Qg3 here because c2 hangs, so he plays Ke2! Someone asks why not Kf2, so as to leave e2 free for a knight. Yury responds "Ok, but what do you think Black's plan is?" Black's plan is to finish development with moves like Na6-c5, Bd7, Rae8, and then to play f5. Once Black accomplishes this, he will be doing pretty well. That's why you don't want your king on f2, and it's also why White has to play quickly here: because his only real advantage is time.

 14.Ke2 Nxc4 15.Rc1 Na6 16.Nd1 Nb6 17.Nh3 Bd7 18.Ne3 f6 19.Rhg1 Rad8 20.b3

Position after 20.b3

This move has two ideas: 1. if Black plays Bb5, White can respond Nc42. it prepares a4-a5.
 20...c6 21.dxc6 bxc6 22.Nf5 gxf5 23.Rxg7+ Kxg7 24.Rg1+ Kf7 25.Qh5+ Ke6 26.Qxf5+ Kf7 27.Qh5+ Ke6 28.Qf5+ Kf7 29.Ng5+ Ke8 30.Ne6 Rf7 31.Rg7 Rc8 32.Rxf7 Kxf7 33.Ng5+ Ke7 34.Qxh7+
Now White has a new advantage, a passed h-pawn.
34...Kd8 35.Qh8+ Kc7 36.Qxf6 Re8 37.h4 Nc5 38.h5 Ne6 39.h6 Nf8 40.b4

 "Karpov gives you the feeling that you are not even allowed to play bad moves..."
40...Nc8 41.Kd2 Ne7 42.h7 Nxh7 43.Nxh7 Nc8
What is White's plan here? We should look for weaknesses the queen can attack. Where are they? d6 and a7. White will now try to attack d6 by getting a knight to f5. But should he allow the trade of bishop for knight? No, because part of White's plan (because he has the queen) is to attack the black king, and for that he needs to keep the knight.
 44.Nf8 Re7 45.a3
Another example of Yury's ability to refer to classic games: he asked here "Who remembers the most famous example of the move a3 in a rook ending?" We then took a quick diversion to see the beautiful finale of Rubinstein-Lasker, 1909.
Rubinstein-Lasker, 1909. Position after 40.a3

Black is in zugzwang! If the king moves back, then Kg6. If 40...Rd7 41. e6! If 40... Re7 41. e6+ Kf8 42. Rc8 Re8 43. Rxe8 and 44. Kg6. If the rook moves off the seventh rank, then Rc7+. The point of a3 is to stop 40...Rb4 41. Rc7 Kf8 42. Kg6 Rxg4+. 
Back to the Karpov game:  
45...Be8 46.Ne6+ Kd7 47.Ng7 Kc7 48.Nf5 Rd7 49.a4 Bf7 50.Kc3 Ba2 51.a5 Rf7 52.Qh6 Rd7 53.f4 exf4 54.Qxf4 Rf7 55.Qh6 Rd7 56.Qh2 Be6 57.Qh6 Bxf5 58.exf5 d5 59.Kd4 Nd6 60.Qf4 Kb7 61.Qe5 Nf7 62.Qe8 Kc7 63.Qa8 Kd6 64.Qf8+ Kc7 65.Qc5 Nd6 66.Qxa7+ Kc8 67.Qa6+ 1–0

Final position, Karpov-Velimirovic

We also looked at two of Shulman’s games.

Shulman-Ginsburg, Position after 19...Kxg6

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Smetankin-Shulman, Position after 19.Nd5

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It was time for a break by this point (!) so Andrew Ng showed a study Kasparov had given students in his annual New York training session.

White to Move and Win

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Yury Shulman
GM Yury Shulman

If the quantity of material sounds mind-numbing, it didn’t feel that way, thanks to Yury’s light-hearted teaching style. He was constantly making jokes, telling funny stories, and using hilarious expressions. One of my favorites was his brief comment to the position below, “Black is fine, as long as White cannot create the concept of trousers.”


The principle of one diagonal: the bishop controls both pawns. No trousers.


 White creates the concept of trousers with 1. g6.

Yury was great at giving feedback that was both constructive and specific. By the end of the week, he had publicly complimented every single person in the room (including the one-day guests and myself) on something they had written down or said. Students received more formal feedback in a fifteen-minute conference held during each player’s bye round in the Saturday night blitz tournament. I was impressed by Shulman’s talent for pinpointing students’ problems and offering concrete ideas for fixing them. For example, after looking at one of his games, Yury suggested Luke needed to work on his understanding of piece placement and plans in the Open Sicilian. To do that, Yury recommended he avoids studying theory, but instead plays over whole games by great Sicilian players (in particular, the Karpov-Kasparov match from 84/85, when Kasparov was playing the black side of the Schveningen.)
David Adelberg asked how he could improve his evaluation of complex positions. Yury gave him two very specific pieces of advice—

1. Read the chapter of Kotov’s Play Like a Grandmaster that deals with evaluation.
2. Create computer files where you collect positions in which each side has a different kind of advantage. For example, one file might have positions where extra material compensates (or doesn’t) for poor king safety; another might show examples where pawn structure balances (or doesn’t balance) piece activity. By studying examples in thematic groups, you gain an understanding of what to look for and build a frame of reference.



In addition to the chess analysis, Yury had a lot of psychological advice for the students. A large part of it related to remaining positive:  “After the tournament, enjoy criticizing yourself as much as you like, but during the tournament you can only have positive thoughts. It is important to keep your fighting spirit—it brings maybe 30% of your points.” He even suggested examples of positive thoughts to think in bad positions. For example, when you hang a pawn, you can think “Fine; I’m lost. Now I can relax and enjoy playing because I have nothing to lose anymore.” Or if you fall into an opening trap, you could think “OK, very good, at last I am going to learn this line. Maybe it will cost me one game, but then I will know it,” or, even better, you could say to yourself, “Now I will prove to my opponent that opening preparation is not everything. Even in this difficult position I will find a good move.”


Prophylaxis puzzles are always fun. I thought I would include one of my favorites that offers another example of Yury’s fluency in referencing old games as illustrations of his points. (Luke Harmon was especially good at this game, even helping Yury later by remembering the name and spelling of an obscure Capablanca opponent.) It’s White to move in the following position, but don’t look at the solution yet!

Karpov-Andersson, Position after 19...f6

Darwin suggested the move 20. f5, and Yury asked if anyone could name the classical game in which the move f5 was famously strong. He then showed the fragment from Lasker-Capablanca, St. Petersburg, 1914, in which Black just played 11...f6.

Position after 12.f5!

Here, f5 frees the Bc1, increases the scope of the Rf1, vacates f4 for a white piece, and limits the Bc8 and the Ne7.

In comparison, f5 is not as good in the Karpov game, because it does not free a white bishop on c1 and the e5 square is easier for black to use. The Karpov game continued 20. Ra3! preparing Rc5, attacking a5. 20.Rc5 immediately allows Be6 21.Na5 Nd7!


One of my favorite non-chess activities at the camp was a group dinner (Steven Zierk and his father, Jon; Andrew Ng and his father, Gene; Darwin Yang and his father Dujiu; and Greg and myself) where Steven Zierk and his father broke out the math/logic puzzles. Below are what I could remember. Answers will be in the second part of this article, which will also profile the nine participants of this US Chess School.

The first USCF member to send the correct answers to all five questions to jshahade@uschess.org with the subject line "USCS Contest" will receive a copy of How to Play Chess Endgames by Karsten Mueller, one of  the books that Yury Shulman recommended to USCS participants.- The contest is closed as Megan Lee, the third highest rated 12-year-old girl in the country, was the first to answer all questions correctly. Also congratulations to the handful of other perfect scores, that came in later than Lee's. Look for answers in Part II of this article.

1.    Someone ties a piece of string around the earth at the equator. Then one meter is added to the length of the string. How far off the earth’s surface would the string lie (if gravity was inverted, say)?
2.    Behind one door is a treasure; behind the other is a tiger. There are two advisors eager to help you choose Door A or Door B: one always lies, the other always tells the truth. You may ask the Liar and the Truth-teller each one question, although, of course, you don’t know which is which. How do you find out which door leads to the treasure?  Correction 1/23: The puzzle can be solved by asking just one of the advisors a question.
3.    Take a chess board and a box of dominoes. Remove two far corner squares, say a1 and h8. If each domino covers a 2x1 square, can you find a way to arrange 31 dominos to cover the 62 square chess board?
4.    If you drove from Point A to Point B at 30 mph, how fast would you have to drive back to average 60 mph, roundtrip?
5.    A bookworm starts eating an encyclopedia. The inner pages of each book measure 1 inch across, and the front and back cover are each 1/8 of an inch. Worm begins at the first page of the first volume and eats its way to the last page of the 20th volume. If Worm eats at a rate of 1 inch per day, how long does this take?

* Books-
Other recommended books by Yury Shulman include the following

Jacob Aagaard books:
Excelling at Chess
Excelling at Positional Chess

Excelling at Chess Calculation

Excelling at Technical Chess

Mark Dvoretsky Books - be careful not to get the same book that simply has a different name, as the names were changed sometimes when he published new versions.These books are very serious and difficult works and should be read with serious training and study in mind (not the best books to read on the subway, in a car etc). It should probably take hours to get through any single chapter of Dvoretsky's books, and Aagaard's examples are also extremely complex on average.

Dorian Rogozenko - Anti-Sicilians: A Guide for Black
Alex Yermolinsky - The Road to Chess Improvement
Andrei Volokitin - Perfect your Chess
Paata Gaprindashvili - Imagination in Chess
Karsten Mueller - Fundamental Chess Endings
Karsten Mueller - How to Play Chess Endgames
Dorfman - Method In Chess 
The following is a multi-part series of books, all of which are recommended:
Opening Repertoire According to Anand (by Khalifman)
Tapani Sammalvuo: The English Attack
Alexander Delchev: The Safest Sicilian: A Black repertoire with 1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 (Taimanov Defense)
Alexander Kotov: Think like a Grandmaster
Boris Avrukh: Grandmaster Repertoire 1.d4 (These books don't seem to be out yet, but they are part of a 2 volume series.)

Photo Gallery

Yury Shulman watches Gregory Young solving a study. The sideways pawn on b8 is a third bishop.

A basketball break

Andrew Ng shows a game

The training room for the 8th USCS

Darwin Yang plays ping pong during a break as Gregory Young and Carl Harmon observe Wii action.

The Ancala Country Club

Elizabeth Vicary's article on the New Jersey U.S. Chess School was the #2 article in Best of Chess Life Online 2008. Look for the second part of this article featuring individual campers, early next week.